B Y T O M T O R T O R I C I
Have you reinvented yourself lately? Over the course of my career, I’ve done the reinvention thing a number of times. Though I mostly do website writing now, I started out as a print designer, taking a train into New York City for night classes at the renowned design schools there.
After migrating to Atlanta, I found myself working as an Art Director at various small ad agencies. As the ‘creative team,’ Art Directors were always paired with Copywriters to work on client ads, brochures, and sales materials. The writer was always paid more than the Art Director, because they had the strategic skills to actually convince customers to buy the client’s product.
The Art Director’s job was mainly to make the piece look distinctive and professional. I understood why the client hired our agency in the first place, so I never regarded that pay and status discrepancy as a slight.
At the time, asking the client to supply their own copy would be as unimaginable as asking them to supply their own design. What would have been the point of hiring professional marketers in the first place? Likewise, treating the writing as an afterthought, cobbled together just to have some text to drop into the creative ad design, would have seemed unprofessional.
But when websites replaced magazine ads as companies’ prime avenue of communication and promotion, practices that seemed curious to me became commonplace for the lower-end two-thirds of the web design industry.
Top agencies still understood the importance and talent of strategic marketing writers. But the wave of new web design firms – not always. Many of those small firms were started by talented people with a design background, for whom design of course was central. They often simply asked the client company to supply the words, because, after all, the client knows their own business better than anyone else. Plus the designer wouldn’t feel responsible for a task that’s outside of their skill set.
Other web firms were begun by people with a strong technical background. Here, naturally, the technical aspects of building a website were considered pivotal. Without the input of experienced designers, many of those early sites were a special brand of ugly. But when CMS platforms and web design templates arrived, those developers were able to create sites that looked somewhat more professional.
But few of the design-oriented or tech-oriented web firms seemed to think about, say, market positioning, in what had emerged as every company’s main marketing vehicle. The completed website was considered an end in itself, not as strategic means for achieving attitude change in the client’s marketplace.
There seemed to be a sense that responses, leads and sales from real-world humans could be earned by including a ‘Contact Us’ or ‘Buy Now’ link. In web providers’ client-input forms, the most fundamental marketing questions were never asked, let alone answered.
The generic phrase ‘content’ lumped together both selling copy and blog posts, two different types of writing with entirely different purposes. And that ‘content’ was too often treated like a checkbox item on the web development to-do list.
The perspective and tone of that web writing often ended up reflecting the mindset of company insiders who are trying to make their sales numbers – not customers who are trying to solve a problem. Not being professional marketers, company managers didn’t realize that what they want to say may not be what their own customers need to hear.
Some web designers and developers were, or have become, more marketing savvy – bravo! I even know some who are very decent writers – yay! But for many others, decisions about colors, background images, plugins and widgets preclude thinking about what was on the buyer’s mind when they began their search.
Some web agencies are aware enough of the issue to a bring in professional copywriters. But it turns out there are two types of writers. One is the strategic writer who digs deep, to ensure that the messages genuinely resonate with the right people. The other, more common, type of writer essentially repeats back what the business owner said in a phone call, but with nicer wording.
In that second case, the client gladly signs off of the final website, because, well why not, it reflects their point-of-view. Unless a sound strategy is created and explained to them, they don’t know any better. The thing is, taking real-world buyers step-by-step to the right conclusion is an intentional effort.
When buyers land on a site that hasn’t been thoroughly thought-through, even one that’s exceptionally well designed, their eyes tend to glaze over. There’s little that connects with their deeper motivations or feelings.
Sure, there are lots of overlapping factors in the highly competitive universe of online marketing. But the proliferation of great looking websites with uncompelling, unconvincing copy appears to work against many companies’ success. After laying their money down, web clients wonder why their new site isn’t bringing them much new business.
Lately, though, I see more and more web professionals who seem to get why fresh copy should be included in their web design proposals. They realize that turning out sites that are effective as well as beautiful is a more interesting and satisfying challenge.
About the Author: Tom Tortorici is an Atlanta copywriter and web content writer who helps companies make a genuine connection with their audience. His classes and conference presentations have focused on how writing, strategy and design can work together to grab attention and interest even among readers with short attention spans. In addition to working directly with businesses, Tom regularly partners with web designers and marketing agencies.
Tom Tortorici Inc. | Tom@TomTortorici.com | 770-934-7861 | 3101 Rockaway Rd | Atlanta GA 30341